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The Hero and the Warrior

by James V. Morganelli, December 31, 2018

My favorite quote from the movie Skyfall occurs when secret agent James Bond meets his new quartermaster, Q, the designer of his spy tech and furrowed brow to many of his boyish antics:

"I'll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field," quips Q.

"Oh, so why do you need me?" Bond replies.

"Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled," Q states.

Bond smiles. "Or not pulled. It's hard to know which in your pajamas."

Bond is talking ethics here, and it's about as ethical as the secret agent has ever sounded. As he rightly points out, the most important aspect is not simply the time, space, and opportunity for the weapon but also the ethical awareness of whether we ought to fire. Our ethic is both a natural and necessary part in our identification of choices and should be ever present in the pursuit of warriorship.

But search "warriorship" online and you'll be bombarded by spirit animals, sales on crystals, and archaic iconography, as it's bandied about in New Age circles. Warrior coaching, self-mastery, and finding the "inner warrior" are all just clever marketing schemes. No one seems to understand how to even define warriors, let alone train others in their ways. So why invoke the warrior at all? Because we associate the archetype with an ideal: the centered, unflappable person able to protect and defend against life's challenges for self and others. In that sense, a warrior is really a hero.

Yet the warrior goes beyond what heroes are capable of. Warriorship is not a complicated thing, but it's certainly not easy. Its roots are associated with war, to be sure, but not confined or limited to it. The best definition I ever heard of a warrior came from Jack Hoban, in an interview I did with him several years ago:

A fireman is a hero. He protects life, right? At the risk of his own life. Runs into a burning building to protect someone he's never seen before. Perhaps as a volunteer. And could die saving this person he doesn't even know. That's a hero. That's the epitome of the self and others [value]. Which others? All others.

And what does he get for it? If he's a volunteer he doesn't get anything material. If he works for a town maybe he gets a civil servant's pay. But what he [does] get for it is two things: one, he gets to save lives, which is the most noble, best feeling that a human being can get, and he gets the esteem and support of his peers and the people that he saved. He gets the inner and the outer feeling.

So, what's the difference between them and a warrior? A warrior is supposed to protect people at the risk of his own life, but what he does that [others do not] is kill to protect life; this oxymoronic thing that actually undermines this feeling of nobility from defending others.

Yes, I did protect others. Yes, I did protect life, but I had to take life in order to do it. This is an added burden. They almost cancel each other out. And that's why people get sick from it. And they'll surely get sick if they do it from the wrong mental perspective, out of anger or fear or prejudice or disrespect or dehumanization—you'll get real sick. But even if you don't, it's very, very difficult.

And that's why a warrior to me is the epitome of human endeavor because even though they protect life they may have to take it which is almost, so dangerous to you, that it can't be overlooked.

Burden and Responsibility

There's a burden and responsibility here. Is it right to be excited by the pomp and circumstance of martial training, the scope of its history, the minutiae and relentless pursuit of technical mastery? Sure. This is the "self" side, the selfish part we often, perhaps too often, get energized about because it's what we can most easily and readily identify with. But we should be mindful not to allow ourselves to be carried away by the best intentions of our enthusiasm, lest it devolve into pride and self-centeredness.

There is an "others" side to training as well, steeped in the honesty of movement, viable usage of space, and the ethics of the protector. We channel it through the principles of training, which gives us the macro view that provides the necessary counterweight to find the stability to reconcile the two halves. It is our mature side, the adult in us, providing perspective to be real about our movement and come to terms with its inherent burden and accept it. We accomplish this through self-risk: mixing ourselves and our capabilities into any set of choices that we can rationally identify.

Here's a true story for you. When marines went house to house in Fallujah, looking for insurgents at the height of the Iraq War, it was a terrible and costly business. Tactics included tossing flash-bang grenades into suspect houses before storming in. On this particular occasion, a young marine leading point on his team approached a door, grenade in hand, and reached for the handle. But before he had even touched it, it swung open, and standing there, AK-47 in hand, was an insurgent, with more milling in the room behind him. The young marine looked at the insurgent, and the insurgent looked at the marine. And then, casually, the marine offered him the grenade. The insurgent took it and the marine closed the door. Do I really have to write BOOM?

The actions this young man took to position, leverage, and initiate options in his area of operation are indicative of the raw fundamentals of the martial way. And it's safe to say he was never trained to hand a live grenade to an insurgent. But when he came face to face with his enemy, a veil was pulled over those options, confusing an otherwise relentless adversary into voluntarily accepting a grenade with his own hands. Does that mean it's a legitimate technique? People confused about truth, which is sometimes illogical and unreasonable, and instead relying only on prepatterned occurrence are going to have trouble here. I can just picture marines drilling this "technique" and yelling—because I always picture marines yelling like R. Lee Ermey— WHEN YOU APPROACH THE DOOR, HA VE YOUR GRENADE IN HAND! WHEN THE INSURGENT OPENS THE DOOR, YOU WILL HAND HIM THE GRENADE!

The moral in this example lies not in exactly what the marine did but in why the marine did what he did—to protect other marines. Anyone else in that scenario might have gotten themselves shot or killed, or started a firefight that endangered civilians and teammates. The lesson is don't lose your head under stress, and train hard and well so you don't. There's the truth. If it's a fancy new technique you're looking for, start with that one. Not only is it logical, it's totally reasonable.

Training isn't just about learning to use martial arts more effectively. It's also about recognizing that we are more effective through consistent training. It is this thought that must come first. For if it does not, then waiting to be instructed is all about training to be good today.

Learning to fight or defend only yourself is a selfish, immature act in the long run. The better way is to see training as a conduit to becoming the kind of person we wish ourselves to be—a protector, teacher, leader—the kind of person who is in control and command when there is conflict, even violence. The kind of person others seek out when they need help.

Not just a hero but a warrior.

The above is an excerpt from The Protector Ethic: Morality, Virtue, and Ethics in the Martial Way by James V. Morganelli.



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